A year ago, Asha did not dare dream of a life where she would have a profession and earn her livelihood with honest work and dignity.
Now, life has turned around for the 16-year-old who is running her own small business – a beauty salon – in Mirpur 10 in Dhaka, all courtesy of “the NGO that helped me stand on my own two feet,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
The NGO, Tarango, is a voluntary organisation which works to provide support to impoverished women and children living and slums to help to work towards a better life.
Asha, along with her friends Shetu, 17, Afrin Akhter, 16, and Sadia, 17, are among 1,350 girls in Mirpur who have been given vocational training by Tarango so that they can find work and live independently.
This correspondent met with the quartet on a recent visit to the Mirpur slum area, organised by bssinfotainment and funded by World Vision and AusAID.
Growing up in the slum of Mirpur, Asha lost both her parents when she was a child and was raised by her paternal aunt.
Poverty got in the way of her education: she was able to finish until Class 3 until she had to drop out of school to start earning money.
“I started working when I was nine years old,” Asha said. “I used to work at the small RMG businesses in the area, where I did karchupi work [intricate beading and embroidery on fabric done by hand]. That job earned me only Tk300 per week, and it was painful as I constantly got pricked by needles. But I had to do it because I did not want to be a burden on my aunt.”
Shetu, who is also an orphan, used to work in a small RMG factory. “I made between Tk1,200 and Tk1,600 per month,” she said.
These girls found hope of becoming more than what their life had been when they caught attention of Tarango last year, and were enrolled in a three-month training on beauty treatment.
After finishing the training, they started working in the local beauty salons in Mirpur, before Asha convinced the other three to join her in her own beauty salon, which kicked off a month ago.
“Thanks to the Almighty, we caught the NGO's attention. With their support, I am living a life of dignity now,” a smiling Asha said, whom her three friends agreed with.
“I am earning around Tk3,000 now,” said Shetu.
“We have the chance to live in the society with pride,” said Afrin.
“Life has been difficult, but now I am getting on my own feet. I can look after my family who raised me when my parents passed away.”
Asked if they have faced any problems while working, Sadia said: “We do, but we can handle it.”
Tarango has been providing vocational training in slum areas under a project to empower working children for two years.
“We enrol working children living in slum areas in training sessions to build their skills in the trades they have most interest in,” said Ananta Boiragi, field facilitator in Tarango.
“We also help the trainees by providing some fund to start their own business. We did the same with these girls so that they could open their own salon.”
“The feeling of achievement is indescribable when we get tips from our customers and they praise us for our good work. I finally feel like I am contributing to the society,” said Sadia.